For the second time in two weeks, the Senate has voted not to allow an up-or-down vote on a non-binding resolution opposing President Bush's plan for military escalation in Iraq.
There was little doubt today's vote would turn out as it did. Senate Democrats needed a 3/5ths majority to successfully invoke cloture and force a vote, but they had little chance of getting there. The Democratic caucus is technically 51 strong, but they came in with only 49 votes today -- Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota is still hospitalized after experiencing bleeding in his brain in December and Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an "independent Democrat" who is part of the Democratic caucus, is one of the most vocal supporters of the president's plan. As such, the Democrats would have needed 11 Republicans to cross the aisle in order to reach the 60-vote threshold necessary for victory. They got seven.
Still, this was an increase, by five, over the last vote less than two weeks ago. Senators Coleman (R-MN) and Collins (R-ME) had been the only ones to cross party lines last time; today, they were joined by Senators Warner (R-VA), Hagel (R-NE), Specter (R-PA), Smith (R-OR) and Snowe (R-ME).
Not voting were 10 senators, including John McCain, the Arizona Republican currently running for president who has long been in favor of an escalation in Iraq but has tried to avoid being too directly associated with the president's plan, perhaps for fear that it would fail and his own campaign would be tarred with that failure. He has missed both of the Senate's votes on whether to take up an anti-escalation resolution, and was the only current presidential candidate from the Senate to miss the vote.
Today's debate featured, like the last one, a somewhat strange reversal of position, as several Republicans all but triple-dog-dared the Democrats to propose legislation that would actually be binding upon the president, a position the Republicans would in reality strongly oppose, but that the Democrats do not yet appear to have the political will to carry out.
California Democrat Dianne Feinstein did, however, take her time today to introduce something more binding and less purely symbolic than what was up for discussion today: Legislation that puts an "expiration date" of December 31, 2007 on the authorization for use of military force. If Feinstein's bill passes, Bush would have to seek renewed authorization for military force in Iraq after that date. Feinstein apparently hopes this resolution would have the effect of forcing a gradual redeployment over the next ten months, as well as a recasting of American troops' role into force protection and training of Iraqi troops and police.